Sardinia is one of the Mediterranean islands of extraordinary beauty that should not be missed by any sea lover. Located almost at half distance between European and African coasts, this Italian island is in general a hidden gem, not often included in the popular destination lists, although it offers amazing emerald waters and pristine beaches.
Sardinia is mostly famous for luxury retreats in Costa Smeralda or for camping sites. Although it might not seem very easy to find services in between, there are options for a relaxing holiday in fantastic places without paying the premium price.
It is important to mention that the island is quite big and many of the roads are narrow, curvy and cutting through mountains or following the coast. That is why our recommendation is that if you don’t have at least 2 weeks to spend around, it is better to visit only parts of the island and not try to get everywhere. You would not want to spend more time in the car than on the beaches.
So we want to share with you our recommendation for a 10 day road trip in the north of the island.
Our journey includes:
- the top north of the island, including beautiful Costa Smeralda, staying 3 nights near Santa Teresa di Gallura
- the beaches and historical towns of the north west, spending 3 more nights near Alghero
- last 3 nights near the impressive Golf of Orosei, in the north east, to explore the white coves and turquoise waters.
How to get there:
Most of the tourists are coming to Sardinia by plane or ferry. Olbia and Alghero are the main airports of the north, Olbia being main transport hub in this part of the island.
There is also Cagliari airport in the south, but we didn’t travel that south. After arrival having a car is a must if you want to travel around. Public transport is very limited and not convenient. Even in the highest season you should be able to rent a car for prices between 20-30€/day.
Driving around is not difficult, but requires patience on the curvy roads. Some smaller country roads might not be very good or well illuminated, so be careful at night. Parking can be sometimes problematic in very famous places, so we recommend to go early and be willing to pay for a private parking if necessary.
Overall, driving in Sardinia is a very pleasant experience, the landscape is simply gorgeous, but it also requires a little bit of planning and patience.
Where to stay:
For comfortable accommodation and still within reasonable budget we recommend local B&Bs or Agroturismo locations. In our opinion they offer a good value for money and help experience local Sardinian life. We looked for places with very good reviews, parking and located in between the areas we wanted to visit (near Santa Teresa Di Gallura, near Alghero and near Orosei). Read the reviews and be ready to stay 10-15 min driving distance from the touristy areas like Alghero or Orosei/Cala Gonone, if you want better value for money.
What to expect regarding food:
Breakfast is in general based on coffee and lots of sweets. Most of the restaurants we found in our itinerary had menus based on pizza, pasta and sea food. It’s not very common to eat chicken or beef dishes. The pizzas and pasta are very tasty and with lots of fresh local ingredients. Sea food is also very good, but depending on the location it can be more expensive. Some restaurants offer fish menus for around 18-20€/person with appetizers, main course, dessert and some drinks. These menus are in general quite good value for money. Our favourite was La Botteghina in Alghero, which had a delicious half meter pizza, very good house wine and lots of other dishes and flavours to choose from.
Day 1 Olbia
Our flight arrived in Olbia and we picked up the car from the airport car rentals. Depending on how much time you have, you can spend some hours in the city or directly drive to your accommodation. Since we arrived in the afternoon we drove to our B&B near Santa Teresa di Gallura and had a relaxing afternoon in the area. There are lots of small local restaurants and we tried some typical Sardinian pasta in the La Piana restaurant.
Day 2 Santa Teresa di Gallura
The next day started very early and we went to the beach near the city. Although it is close to the historical centre, the water is lovely and the beach has all the facilities needed, including parking and snack bars. We stopped on the way at a big super market to buy a parasol and beach mattresses, as it is recommended having your own during your Sardinian trip. For prices and more details read the useful tips section below.
The good thing about the beach is that it is close to everything and you can decide to retreat to a restaurant or shadowed terrace around if the sun gets too hot. We spent the late afternoon/evening in the historical centre which is very lively and picturesque.
Day 3 Arhipelago di Madalenna
The best way to explore the famous archipelago di Madalenna is by boat. There are some options for this: renting a small boat without a driver if you want full flexibility and privacy (the cost differs on boat type, but can start from 150 EUR/boat/7 hours and does not include the fuel), taking an all inclusive tour in a small sailing boat (for 8-10 pers, the cost is about 90-100 EUR/person) or taking a tour with a bigger boat (40-50 person and the cost is about 40-50 EUR/person). We chose the all inclusive sailboat tour, although it was far from being cheap, but in our opinion it offered the best service, value for money and flexible to change itinerary as needed.
The archipelago is in general very crowded and beaches can get overpopulated if all boats follow the same itinerary and arrive in the same time. Also we enjoyed a lot the aperitif, food, deserts and local drinks served constantly by the crew during the tour. The main attraction of the archipelago is the pink beach (Spiaggia Rosa), but unfortunately the colour has faded away in the last decades and it is now hardly visible. Other beautiful beaches of the archipelago are Spiaggia dei Cavalieri, Spiaggia dei Corsari, Cala Lunga, Cala Garibaldi, etc.
Day 4 Castelsardo
After 3 days of exploring the very north of the island, we continued our journey in the north west. We planned to stay near Alghero for the next 3 nights and visit a few of the most interesting places around. The fourth day was spent on our way to Alghero, stopping for some beach relaxation in Costa Paradiso and later in Castelsardo to visit the charming medieval castle.
Costa Paradiso includes a series of small beautiful beaches, some public others as part of private resorts. There are signs on the way to indicate beaches, such as Spiaggia di Li Cossi . Also if you want to visit first Castelsardo, there are some nice beaches after passing Castelsardo on the way to Alghero, such as Spiaggia Lu Bagnu.
Castelsardo should be a must visit place and you should not miss the Castello dei Doria, built in 1102 (or 1270), by the Doria family of Genoa. It is still in a remarkable preserved condition and is surrounded by lovely medieval narrow streets and colourful stone houses. If you are thirsty or hungry you can find some inviting restaurants or bars around. We do not recommend the beach in Castelsardo, because it was small and not very clean, not comparable to the rent of the Sardinian beaches. Be prepared to go up the steep hill to get to the castle and on the way the sun will be felt very powerful.
Day 5 Stintino – La Pelosa beach
Although our accommodation was very close to Alghero, we started to visit the area with what we considered the most beautiful beach we have seen in Sardinia: La Pelosa, near Stintino. With shallow, clear turquoise waters and white soft sand this beach feels like paradise and no wonder it is one of the most popular. We recommend getting there very early because parking close by can be a problem after 10 a.m. Also beach towels are not allowed to be placed directly on the sand, so you would need a beach mattress. If you don’t already have one, there are people selling them near the beach entrances.
The beach is amazing and also has all the needed facilities (from toilets, sun-beds rental to snacks or restaurants). We really loved this beach and luckily it is large enough to accommodate all its visitors and compensate for how crowded it can get in the peak summer time. From Stintino, a very small fishing village, you can get a boat and visit the Piana island, a natural park where you can see wild white donkeys and other interesting fauna. For dinner we went to Alghero, to have lots of options for restaurants and because the old centre is very beautiful and lively in the evenings.
Day 6 Alghero
The entire area surrounding Alghero offers many opportunities to spend the day, including a natural park (Porto Conte). For a local gastronomical experience you can visit an Agroturismo farm and taste traditional specialities straight from their source and find out more about how they are made. The same goes if you would like to visit a winery.
Last but not least, make sure you save enough time to explore Alghero, which is a charming city where history blends with lovely waters, traditions and the lively Italian spirit. The historical part is an intricate network of cobbled stone streets, where you can admire medieval architecture, charming small squares, inviting cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops. You can visit the fortified walls, plenty of small museums (including one dedicated to corals), churches, squares and other historical buildings.
There are also many souvenir shops and plenty of coral jewellery and artefacts shops. The Sardinian red coral represent a symbol of the courage and mastership of locals to extract this precious material from the depths and to transform it into delicate art.
Day 7 Bosa
Before going to the east part of the island we visited the small but wonderful Bosa. This picture perfect village is situated at about 50km from Alghero and can be reached in about one hour, following a beautiful costal road. There is a marina and a beach close by, but the most important is the old centre with its historical tower that dominates the valley. You will find here the true historical Italian charm, in a miniature version, with colourful stone houses, charming plazas, fountains and narrow pathways.
Take your time to stroll around the streets and visit the castle, for amazing views of the valley.
From Bosa we continued our journey towards Orosei and checked into our next accommodation in Dorgali.
Day 8 Golfo di Orosei
Golfo Di Orosei has some of the most renowned beaches of Sardinia and should not be missed if you are in this part of the island.
Since it is a coastal region with high cliffs, the easiest way to explore the golf and beaches is by boat. The port of Orosei is the starting/ending point of the boat tours and is very busy early mornings and evenings. You can chose between renting a boat on your own, have a place in a 10-12 person small boat or a seat in a lager one for 20+ persons. The cost varies and includes the place in the boat, plus the use of a parasol and lunch bag during the day. Food/drinks are not provided and have to be bought separately before going to the boat. The majority of the boats leave at 10 and parking will be an issue if you don’t arrive early enough.
The usual tours will allow you to visit, stop and swim at wonderful beaches, such as Cala Luna, Cala Goloritze (a UNESCO protected pebble beach), Cala Mariolu. The beaches are rocky in general, but some have such small pebbles that feel like grains of sand. Due to the marble cliffs, many beaches have almost white colour and the sea is extremely clear and blue. It’s an absolute pleasure to swim around and the only disadvantage is how busy some of these beaches can become especially during the peak season.
For dinner you can stay in Orosei, but there are only a few restaurants compared to the number of tourists, or you can drive to small villages around, such as Dorgali, Galtelli, etc.
Day 9 Cala Budoni
The last full day before our departure we tried another beach on our way from Orosei to Olbia: Cala Budoni. This beach is very large and relaxing, with enough comfort, beach bars and calm waters. You can also practice water sports around and the prices are reasonable for Sardinia.
If you want more action and party then San Teodoro area is better, but also the prices will increase.
Day 10 Olbia
We spent our last day in Olbia, a busy arrival/departure point for planes and cruise ships. Depending on how much time you have available, you can chose to visit the archaeological museum, churches or other historical buildings, or simply walk along the main street, Corso Umberto, with lots of restaurants, cafes or shops.
We really enjoyed our holiday in North Sardinia and we look forward to exploring the south of the island with another occasion.
Useful travel tips for Sardinia:
- Renting sun beds and parasols on the beaches is not possible everywhere; only some beaches have this facility. The cost is normally 30€/set for 2 persons, but it can go higher depending on the area. Most tourists, including us, decide to buy the parasol and beach mattresses separately. The cost is around 20€/parasol and 5€/single beach mattress.
- Breakfast offered in a B&B consists mostly in a tasty Italian coffee, milk, juices and a variety of local sweets. Some might include cheese, ham or fruits, but unless you specifically ask/agree with your host in advance they in general do not include eggs or vegetables.
- Parking in general is charged between 0.5€ -1€/hour and it is recommended to always have coins with you, many do not accept cards nor give change.
- Sun can be very strong around midday, so always have a place with shadow around.
- The Olbia airport is quite small, but busy, so it can have a long queue for check-in, security and passport control, so go with enough time before your flight;
- Definitely try the Sardinian Mirto, a tasty local digestive, the Sardinian pastas and local house wines. You will not be disappointed.